My friend Matt Bochneak sent me a link to Hauschka’s Top 5 ’90s Hip-Hop Tracks. He thought the picks weren’t that great. I replied that it’s actually pretty hard to make picks because that era is so good. Which got me thinking, could I pick 5 tracks?
Here’s the list of artists I looked at (pretty sure I still forgot a bunch): 2Pac, A Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development, Beastie Boys, Big L, Big Pun, Black Sheep, Black Star, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Busta Rhymes, Casual, Cypress Hill, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, DMX, Dead Prez, Del the Funky Homosapien, Digable Planets, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Eric B. & Rakim, Fugees, GZA, Gang Starr, House Of Pain, Ice Cube, Jay-Z, Jeru The Damaja, KRS-One, LL Cool J, Lauryn Hill, Method Man, Missy Elliott, Mobb Deep, Mos Def, N.W.A., Nas, Naughty By Nature, Outkast, Pharoahe Monch, Public Enemy, Redman, Scarface, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Snoop Dogg, Souls of Mischief, The Notorious B.I.G., The Pharcyde, and Wu-Tang Clan.
After a week of internal debating, I was able to narrow it down to 5, but I failed in ranking them 😥. Here are my picks, sorted by release date…
Eric B. & Rakim - Don’t Sweat The Technique (1992)
Rakim, the greatest MC ever? “Pencils and pens are swords / Letters put together from a key to chords.”. Eric B.’s beats on this track are amazing. The way the song starts with the bass line (sampled from Young-Holt Unlimited - Queen Of The Nile), followed by a saxophone (from Kool & the Gang - Give It Up), Rakim’s voice and then that heavy bass drum 👍. The video clip is classic too, so many girls! DJ Cam Quartet did a great jazz cover of the song.
The Pharcyde - Passin’ Me By (1992)
I could leave it at Summer in the City, but did you know about there’s all kinds of behind-the-scenes drama related to this song? According to most resources, J-Swift (originally from Spain) produced Passin’ Me By. But, Imani and Bootie Brown (two members from The Pharcyde) claim that J-Swift did not produce Passin’ Me By. After the release of the album, J-Swift gained some success (even did some remixes for Prince and Massive Attack) but fell into depression and a gnarly drug addiction. In 2007, a documentary movie, 1 More Hit, was made about his path to sobriety. In 2015, J-Swift relapsed, got caught with some substances and got deported to Spain. He recently made a video directed at (then) president Obama in hopes of returning home to his family in the US.
Jeru The Damaja - Come Clean (1993)
DJ Premiere made the beat specifically for Jeru. That wood block sound (Shelly Manne - Infinity) is what drew me in to this track. I guess it symbolizes: “Chinese water torture”. Works for me! Complex did a great mini-doc about the making of this song. And how sick is that opening line? “You wanna front, what, jump up and get bucked”
GZA - Cold World (1995)
The darkest and most sinister track of the Liquid Swords album. Unfortunately not shown in the official video, but on the album the song start with a sample from the movie, Shogun Assasin. “I had a bad dream. Don’t be afraid, bad dreams are only dreams. What a time you chose to be born.”
Fugees - Ready or Not (1996)
Let’s not kid ourselves, The Score, is filled with bangers. This track did not do so well in the US, but in Europe it did. I think it’s because it contained an Enya sample. Yankees seem to not dig Enya as much as we Euros do, so therefor I pick Ready or Not as my favorite Fugees track. Vibe reported that the video started the era of big budget, movie-like hip hop videos. The video features 🚁 🦈 🚗 🔫 🏍 💥, and cost $1.3 million to produce. In justifying the price tag, Pras told Vibe “People want to see drama, man. You figure: A kid pays sixteen dollars for your CD. Let him see a good video.”
Did I make the right picks? Hollar at me on the Twitter!